- Symphony No. 9 in D minor ("Choral"), Op. 125
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You may be wary of a version of Beethoven's "Symphony No. 9 in D minor. Op. 125," played by an ensemble with the word "Camerata" in its name, but be assured that this live recording by the Manchester Camerata under Douglas Boyd has plenty of power. It's not easy to come up with a distinctive reading of Beethoven's "Ninth," but Boyd achieves one with his sparse, clear 59-player orchestra that is broken up into a great variety of textures. Overall, Boyd tends toward quick tempos (especially in the slow movement) and a sound influenced by the historical-performance movement, with sharp string accents making up for the low overall volume, clearly defined wind and brass parts, and little vibrato. There are many lovely moments, including the opening of the symphony, which brings a fine sense of mystery resolved by cadential motion toward the eventual main theme. The points in the symphony where Beethoven makes absolutely unheard-of decisions and diverges completely from any previous models all have a real feeling of discovery here. The finale seems to gather excitement even though the soloists struggle with the vocal extremes and the opening instrumental recitatives lose their full effect with a smaller orchestra. (The chorus, however, is full-size and tends to overwhelm the strings at times.) Beethoven undeniably had larger instrumental forces in mind, but it's equally true that plenty of orchestras this size in the first half of the 19th century played this music. If your sound ideal in the "Ninth" is a world-class modern orchestra stretched to its limits, you may find this underpowered, but it's full of fresh ideas.